Scott Reps, a 28-year State Patrol veteran, was speeding at more than 100 miles per hour toward an accident that had injured a motorcyclist in Cannon Falls, Minn., last July 4th.
When Norman Scott, 78, failed to yield as he pulled out of a fast-food parking lot, his car was broadsided by Reps’ squad car. He and his wife, Geneva, 79, were killed instantly, and Reps was seriously injured.
Law enforcement officers are rarely charged with a crime when they are involved in a fatal accident. But in December, a grand jury indicted Reps on charges of second-degree manslaughter and failure to drive with due care.
Months before his trial is expected to start, Reps’ attorney is accusing the Winona County attorney’s office of using a confidential and coerced statement from Reps and other tactics to gain the unlikely indictment.
“The use [of his statement] was inexcusable, flagrant, and a fatal error of prosecutorial misconduct, which should lead to dismissal of charges and disqualification of the prosecutor from further involvement in the case,” Reps’ attorney, Fred Bruno, wrote in a motion filed in July.
Reps, 49, of Red Wing, Minn., has been on medical leave since the accident. A State Patrol spokeswoman said she could not comment.
Reps was responding to a report of a motorcycle-deer collision when the deadly crash occurred about 2:45 p.m. that day. He was driving down 65th Avenue when his car hit the Scotts’ just south of downtown Cannon Falls.
Witnesses described hearing sirens and seeing the patrol car’s lights when the Scotts’ car pulled out of a lot and was hit on the driver’s side. Reps was airlifted to a hospital and had two major surgeries to repair broken arms and an ankle.
In the State Patrol’s 19-page accident reconstruction report, Reps was found to be traveling 80 miles per hour. His car skidded 120 feet before crashing. Speed was a clear factor in the crash, the report said.
State law allows emergency vehicles to exceed speed limits, within reason, when responding to a call. The law doesn’t relieve the driver of the duty to drive with due regard for safety, the report said. It also doesn’t protect the driver from consequences for reckless disregard of the safety of others.
The report also said it was Norman Scott’s responsibility to slow down and have a clear visual before entering the roadway. He should have yielded when he saw Reps’ squad car, which had turned on its lights and siren.
Bruno’s motion said Reps was in casts and on pain pills when he was ordered by Capt. Mark Holm to give a statement on July 15, 2014. He also never consented to have his statement released to the grand jury and wasn’t informed it would be given to the prosecution.
“The statement was coerced and inadmissible,” Bruno wrote. “He had protections against self-incrimination. You must be warned that giving a statement can be used for disciplinary purposes.”
Reps had a reasonable fear that he would be disciplined or lose his job for insubordination if he didn’t give a statement, the motion said. The State Patrol requires a trooper to give a statement following a critical incident.
The motion listed at least a dozen alleged problems with the grand jury proceedings, which convened in Goodhue County on Dec. 14. There weren’t the required 12 jurors to vote on the indictment, it said, and prosecutors had off-the-record conversations during the proceeding and didn’t explain key elements needed to indict a person for manslaughter.
The prosecution also didn’t present key evidence and witnesses to the grand jury, the motion said. The jury was also told Goodhue County hadn’t had a grand jury in years, giving them the perception that it was a special event and predisposing them to return an indictment, the motion said.
Assistant Winona County attorney Stephanie Nuttall filed a 30-page response to Bruno’s motion Aug. 17. The grand jury was fair and impartial, she wrote. The court reporter testified that all evidence and statements were contained on the record, the motion said.
When the judge told jurors that grand juries weren’t called often, it didn’t result in a loss of the grand jury’s independence, it said. The prosecution didn’t imply that the probable cause needed for an indictment was a foregone conclusion, Nuttall wrote. Much of the evidence to the grand jury, such as the State Patrol’s mission code and fatal effects of high-speed driving, was meant to show negligence and recklessness on Reps’ part, the motion said.
“What Reps knew and what his responsibilities were makes this conduct more egregious, and supports the grand jury’s finding of probable cause to support the charges,” the motion said.
To indict Reps on second-degree manslaughter, the grand jury had to find that he created an unreasonable risk while driving. He knew the dangers of traveling at high speed, the motion said.
Nuttall also challenged Reps’ argument that said he was entitled to qualified immunity because Scott pulled out in front of his squad, saying that claim was baseless because of his negligent driving behavior.
The judge is expected to rule later this month.